Sheffield Steelers 2 Nottingham Panthers 1 (OT) - Dogged Steelers persevere to welcome back O'Connor in winning style

NICE TO SEE YOU ... Ben O'Connor got the Sheffield Steelers' man-of-the-match award on his return from Sweden which saw the hosts edge out Nottingham Panthers 2-1 at Sheffield Anrea. Picture: Dean Woolley.
NICE TO SEE YOU ... Ben O'Connor got the Sheffield Steelers' man-of-the-match award on his return from Sweden which saw the hosts edge out Nottingham Panthers 2-1 at Sheffield Anrea. Picture: Dean Woolley.
0
Have your say

AS returns go, beating your fiercest enemy in front of a home crowd comes pretty close to the ideal homecoming.

Having barely had time to let his skates dry out having played the previous evening for Swedish club Leksands IF, defenceman Ben O'Connor was back out on the ice for Sheffield Steelers, having called time on his career in the Swedish second-tier after just two months.

As for the Steelers' fans, they were just happy to see the return of one of the most influential players to play for the club in the course of the last three years or so.

It certainly seemed to give the hosts an extra jump in their stride, despite going behind to a fourth-minute strike from Panthers' Luke Pither, who was allowed to weave his way through on goal before firing past Jackson Whistle.

Thereafter, the Steelers - who before the game released forward Chris Lawrence days after the departure of fellow forward Brendan Brooks - made themselves the more dominant team, skating hard and ensuring that Mike Garnett was the busier of the two goalies, out-shooting the visitors 37-20 on the night.

But, Garnett's quality and some brave shot-blocking from his team-mates in front of him ensured it was to be a frustrating 50 minutes or so for the Steelers, with Steffan Della Rovere, Tanner Eberle and Jordan Owens all denied when presented with good scoring chances.

It was in the third period where the Steelers' dominance really surfaced, however, although they were made to wait a while before getting back on level terms with a pile-driver from player-assistant coach Mark Matheson from the right circle.

Overtime was required but it didn't last long, when - just 30 seconds in - Josh Pitt finished off a neat one-two with Justin Buzzeo the hosts broke clear from inside their zone.

As homecomings go, it could not have been any better for 29-year-old O'Connor who was also handed the man-of-the-match award.

"It was really humbling to get the ovation I did from the crowd, it was a special feeling," said O'Connor. "It's great to be back, I haven't been this happy for a long time.

"To come back and get a win, in overtime, against Nottingham is pretty special."

Head coach Tom Barrasso, whose first game in charge ended in a 5-2 defeat at Nottngham, said he was pleased that his players got their just rewards.

"I was very happy for the players, happy with how they performed," said Barrasso. "Despite being down we stuck with our program, skated a hard game and really continued with our offensive progress of controlling the puck in the offensive zone and just really weartng other teams out and trying to put as many pucks to the net as possible. We did a good job."